Text: Luke 19: 37-40
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
I find this text offers a very provocative thing to think about; what if Jesus was actually serious when he said the stones would shout out. What was he trying to tell us? Why would Jesus say something like this? Like I said, I think it is a very provocative thing to think about.
I also find this text in Luke to be unique in that only the Luke version of this story includes the comment about the stones shouting. So why would Luke include this in his Gospel? Is the idea of the stones sounding off just something that Luke thought of on his own, or is there a deeper thread of thinking that could be uncovered if we dig a little?
The story of Jesus entering Jerusalem is in all four Gospels and there are many similarities among the stories. People shouting and singing, Jesus on a colt or a donkey, people spreading their cloaks on the ground all of these things are in the majority of the stories. What we identify as an event that defines Palm Sunday, interestingly the mention of palm branches in only in one of the four stories.
But only Luke mentions the stones shouting out. I would like to explore this idea a little bit. If it is metaphor, what does it mean, or if Luke thought it could actually happen, what does that mean? It has to be one or the other.
Another point that I find interesting is this rather obscure text caught the interest of lyricist Tim Rice as he was creating the musical opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Andrew Lloyd Weber provided the musical score and together you have a very memorable recreation of what we consider to be Palm Sunday, but Luke’s comment about the stones is included. Let’s have a listen.
When I listen to this text as it was incorporated into Jesus Christ Superstar, it really comes alive for me. I think the concept of the “rocks and stones themselves would start to sing” is something worthwhile to explore and think about.
That being said, I’m not looking for a literal interpretation of this text. I don’t think the rocks are actually going to start singing or shouting. But the rock and stones in the written text and in the song we heard are symbolic of something else. What is the author of Luke trying to suggest to us?
I believe there is a hint about the spiritual understanding that Luke had about the Divine, or God if that works better for you, in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. I believe that understanding of the spirit of God was far more universal and far more accessible than was common in that era. I think Luke believed that the Spirit of God was everywhere and in all things and in all people all the time. I think Luke had a very universal understanding of the Spirit of God – and his reference to the stones actually shouting or singing is a reflection of how he understood the Spirit of God.
So, why do I believe this to be true of Luke and maybe not some of the other gospel authors?
The answer to that question is something I found in the opening chapter of Luke. In Chapter one, verse 15, Luke is writing about the birth of John the Baptist. In that verse 15, Luke says that even before his birth, John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now wait a minute. John the Baptist preceded Jesus. The Holy Spirit arrived after the life and execution and resurrection of Jesus while the disciples were gathered together for the celebration of Pentecost. This event is recorded in the second chapter of Acts, which was also written by Luke, so it’s not like he didn’t know the story.
This is evidence to me, that Luke had a very open and pervasive view of the Spirit of God – because he declared John the Baptist to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth, which was many years prior to the official arrival of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts. For most Jews and many other believers and by ancient tradition God resided only in the temple. Perhaps the spirit of God might be found in the Tora, but the actual dwelling place of God was called the Holy of Holies, and you could not enter the space or even look at it, unless protected by God.
For Luke to declare that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit prior to his birth is a fairly radical departure from the common understanding of the day. It is much more aligned with our modern day understanding of the universality of the Spirit of God. I think this also helps explain why he might have Jesus make a comment about the rocks bursting into song as well.
All of this background information about Luke’s spiritual understanding of the nature of God may be interesting, but there is a reason I wanted to call your attention to it. The reason is that this Sunday is World Communion Sunday – and today we celebrate the universality of the Spirit of God and all Christians everywhere come together through the common experience of communion. It is today that we recognize that we have a common bond, a common energy that encircles the entire planet.
While this may seem like an obvious thing for us to celebrate, it is an important step in our spiritual development and it’s worth remembering that it has not always been the case. Far too often and for far too long, different religions, even different Christian religions have been at odds with each other, not celebrating what we have in common. World Communion Sunday was originally started by the Presbyterians I believe in the 1940’s – so in the big picture, this is kind of a new thought.
I also find the idea of World Communion Sunday important to be recognized as a stepping stone to the day that I look forward to when we learn to honor all faith traditions and communicate that we have Divine connections that break the bonds of any singular faith tradition. I do know that Luke was of the opinion that Jews and Gentiles both were welcome and encouraged into the Christian communities. The universality of the Spirit of God that would cause even the stones to shout and sing is a goal for all of us to strive to attain. If the Spirit of God is present even in the stones, how much more present is the Divine Creator in the human lives of all God’s children in all places and in all faith traditions. World Communion Sunday is one small step that we celebrate that moves us ever closer to full inclusion of all people of all faiths everywhere.
With that connective energy we recognize that we are a part of something that circles the entire planet. Allow that connective energy, that Spirit of God, to rest upon you and soak into your very being as we celebrate the sacrament of communion this day. For today we recognize that we are connected to all people everywhere.